OR LOVE AND SECESSION
BY BENJAMIN WOOD
——"Whom they please they lay in basest bonds." Venice Preserved.
* * * * *
"O, beauteous Peace! Sweet union of a state! what else but thou Gives safety, strength, and glory to a people?" Thomson.
"Oh, Peace! thou source and soul of social life; Beneath whose calm inspiring influence, Science his views enlarges, art refines, And swelling commerce opens all her ports; Blest be the man divine, who gives us thee!" Thomson.
"A peace is of the nature of a conquest; For then both parties nobly are subdued, And neither party loser." Shakspeare.
There is a pleasant villa on the southern bank of the James River, a few miles below the city of Richmond. The family mansion, an old fashioned building of white stone, surrounded by a spacious veranda, and embowered among stately elms and grave old oaks, is sure to attract the attention of the traveller by its picturesque appearance, and the dreamy elegance and air of comfort that pervade the spot. The volumes of smoke that roll from the tall chimneys, the wide portals of the hall, flung open as if for a sign of welcome, the merry chat and cheerful faces of the sable household, lazily alternating their domestic labors with a sly romp or a lounge in some quiet nook, these and other traits of the old Virginia home, complete the picture of hospitable affluence which the stranger instinctively draws as his gaze lingers on the grateful scene. The house stands on a wooded knoll, within a bowshot of the river bank, and from the steps of the back veranda, where creeping flowers form a perfumed network of a thousand hues, the velvety lawn shelves gracefully down to the water's edge.
Toward sunset of one of the early days of April, 1861, a young girl stood leaning upon the wicket of a fence which separated the garden from the highway. She stood there dreamily gazing along the road, as if awaiting the approach of some one who would be welcome when he came. The slanting rays of the declining sun glanced through the honeysuckles and tendrils that intertwined among the white palings, and threw a subdued light upon her face. It was a face that was beautiful in repose, but that promised to be more beautiful when awakened into animation. The large, grey eyes were half veiled with their black lashes at that moment, and their expression was thoughtful and subdued; but ever as the lids were raised, when some distant sound arrested her attention, the expression changed with a sudden flash, and a gleam like an electric fire darted from the glowing orbs. Her features were small and delicately cut, the nostrils thin and firm, and the lips most exquisitely molded, but in the severe chiselling of their arched lines betraying a somewhat passionate and haughty nature. But the rose tint was so warm upon her cheek, the raven hair clustered with such luxuriant grace about her brows, and the petite and lithe figure was so symmetrical at every point, that the impression of haughtiness was lost in the contemplation of so many charms.
Oriana Weems, the subject of our sketch, was an orphan. Her father, a wealthy Virginian, died while his daughter was yet an infant, and her mother, who had been almost constantly an invalid, did not long survive. Oriana and her brother, Beverly, her senior by two years, had thus been left at an early age in the charge of their mother's sister, a maiden lady of excellent heart and quiet disposition, who certainly had most conscientiously fulfilled the sacred trust. Oriana had returned but a twelvemonth before from a northern seminary, where she had gathered up more accomplishments than she would ever be likely to make use of in the old homestead; while Beverly, having graduated at Yale the preceding month, had written to his sister that she might expect him that very day, in company with his classmate and friend, Arthur Wayne.
She stood, therefore, at the wicket, gazing down the road, in expectation of catching the first glimpse of her brother and his friend, for whom horses had been sent to Richmond, to await their arrival at the depot. So much was she absorbed in revery, that she failed to observe a solitary horseman who approached from the opposite direction. He plodded leisurely along until within a few feet of the wicket, when he quietly drew rein and gazed for a moment in silence upon the unconscious girl. He was a tall, gaunt man, with stooping shoulders, angular features, lank, black hair and a sinister expression, in which cunning and malice combined. He finally urged his horse a step nearer, and as softly as his rough voice would admit, he bade: "Good evening, Miss Oriana."
She started, and turned with a suddenness that caused the animal he rode to swerve. Recovering her composure as suddenly, she slightly inclined her head and turning from him, proceeded toward the house.
"Stay, Miss Oriana, if you please."
She paused and glanced somewhat haughtily over her shoulder.
"May I speak a word with you?"
"My aunt, sir, is within; if you have business, I will inform her of your presence."
"My business is with you, Miss Weems," and, dismounting, he passed through the gate and stepped quickly to her side.
"Why do you avoid me?"
Her dark eye flashed in the twilight, and she drew her slight form up till it seemed to gain a foot in height.
"We do not seek to enlarge our social circle, Mr. Rawbon. You will excuse me if I leave you abruptly, but the night dew begins to fall."
She moved on, but he followed and placed his hand gently on her arm. She shook it off with more of fierceness than dignity, and the man's eyes fairly sought the ground beneath the glance she gave him.
"You know that I love you," he said, in a hoarse murmur, "and that's the reason you treat me like a dog."
She turned her back upon him, and walked, as if she heard him not, along the garden path. His brow darkened, and quickening his pace, he stepped rudely before her and blocked the way.
"Look you, Miss Weems, you have insulted me with your proud ways time and time again, and I have borne it tamely, because I loved you, and because I've sworn that I shall have you. It's that puppy, Harold Hare, that has stepped in between you and me. Now mark you," and he raised his finger threateningly, "I won't be so meek with him as I've been with you."
The girl shuddered slightly, but recovering, walked forward with a step so stately and commanding, that Rawbon, bold and angry as he was, involuntarily made way for her, and she sprang up the steps of the veranda and passed into the hall. He stood gazing after her for a moment, nervously switching the rosebush at his side with his heavy horsewhip; then, with a muttered curse, he strode hastily away, and leaping upon his horse, galloped furiously down the road.
Seth Rawbon was a native of Massachusetts, but for some ten years previously to the date at which our tale commences, he had been mostly a resident of Richmond, where his acuteness and active business habits had enabled him to accumulate an independent fortune. His wealth and vigorous progressive spirit had given him a certain degree of influence among the middle classes of the community, but his uncouth manner, and a suspicion that he was not altogether free from the degradation of slave-dealing, had, to his great mortification and in spite of his persistent efforts, excluded him from social intercourse with the aristocracy of the Old Dominion. He was not a man, however, to give way to obstacles, and with characteristic vanity and self-reliance, he had, shortly after her return from school, greatly astonished the proud Oriana with a bold declaration of love and an offer of his hand and fortune. Not intimidated by a sharp and decidedly ungracious refusal, he had at every opportunity advocated his hopeless suit, and with so much persistence and effrontery, that the object of his unwelcome passion had been goaded from indifference to repugnance and absolute loathing. Harold Hare, whose name he had mentioned with so much bitterness in the course of the interview we have represented, was a young Rhode Islander, who had, upon her brother's invitation, sojourned a few weeks at the mansion some six months previously, while on his way to engage in a surveying expedition in Western Virginia. He had promised to return in good time, to join Beverly and his guest, Arthur Wayne, at the close of their academic labors.
A few moments after Rawbon's angry departure, the family carriage drove rapidly up to the hall door, and the next instant Beverly was in his sister's arms, and had been affectionately welcomed by his old-fashioned, kindly looking aunt. As he turned to introduce his friend, Arthur, the latter was gazing with an air of absent admiration upon the kindled features of Oriana. The two young men were of the same age, apparently about one-and-twenty; but in character and appearance they were widely different. Beverly was, in countenance and manner, curiously like his sister, except that the features were bolder and more strongly marked. Arthur, on the contrary, was delicate in feature almost to effeminacy. His brow was pale and lofty, and above the auburn locks were massed like a golden coronet. His eyes were very large and blue, with a peculiar softness and sadness that suited well the expression of thoughtfulness and repose about his lips. He was taller than his friend, and although well-formed and graceful, was slim and evidently not in robust health. His voice, as he spoke in acknowledgment of the introduction, was low and musical, but touched with a mournfulness that was apparent even in the few words of conventional courtesy that he pronounced.
Having thus domiciliated them comfortably in the old hall, we will leave them to recover from the fatigues of the journey, and to taste of the plentiful hospitalities of Riverside manor.
Early in the fresh April morning, the party at Riverside manor were congregated in the hall, doing full justice to Aunt Nancy's substantial breakfast.
"Oriana," said Beverly, as he paused from demolishing a well-buttered batter cake, and handed his cup for a second supply of the fragrant Mocha, "I will leave it to your savoir faire to transform our friend Arthur into a thorough southerner, before we yield him back to his Green Mountains. He is already half a convert to our institutions, and will give you not half so much trouble as that obstinate Harold Hare."
She slightly colored at the name, but quietly remarked:
"Mr. Wayne must look about him and judge from his own observation, not my arguments. I certainly do not intend to annoy him during his visit, with political discussions."
"And yet you drove Harold wild with your flaming harangues, and gave him more logic in an afternoon ride than he had ever been bored with in Cambridge in a month."
"Only when he provoked and invited the assault," she replied, smiling. "But I trust, Mr. Wayne, that the cloud which is gathering above our country will not darken the sunshine of your visit at Riverside manor. It is unfortunate that you should have come at an unpropitious moment, when we cannot promise you that perhaps there will not be some cold looks here and there among the townsfolk, to give you a false impression of a Virginia welcome."
"Not at all, Oriana; Arthur will have smiles and welcome enough here at the manor house to make him proof against all the hard looks in Richmond. I prevailed on him to come at all hazards, and we are bound to have a good time and don't want you to discourage us; eh, Arthur?"
"I am but little of a politician, Miss Weems," said Arthur, "although I take our country's differences much at heart. I shall surely not provoke discussion with you, like our friend Harold, upon an unpleasant subject, while you give me carte blanche to enjoy your conversation upon themes more congenial to my nature."
She inclined her head with rather more of gravity than the nature of the conversation warranted, and her lips were slightly compressed as she observed that Arthur's blue eyes were fixed pensively, but intently, on her face.
The meal being over, Oriana and Wayne strolled on the lawn toward the river bank, while the carriage was being prepared for a morning drive. They stood on the soft grass at the water's edge, and as Arthur gazed with a glow of pleasure at the beautiful prospect before him, his fair companion pointed out with evident pride the many objects of beauty and interest that were within view on the opposite bank.
"Are you a sailor, Mr. Wayne? If so, we must have out the boat this afternoon, and you will find some fairy nooks beyond the bend that will repay you for exploring them, if you have a taste for a lovely waterscape. I know you are proud of the grand old hills of your native State, but we have something to boast of too in our Virginia scenery."
"If you will be my helmswoman, I can imagine nothing more delightful than the excursion you propose. But I am inland bred, and must place myself at the mercy of your nautical experience."
"Oh, I am a skillful captain, Mr. Wayne, and will make a good sailor of you before you leave us. Mr. Hare will tell you that I am to be trusted with the helm, even when the wind blows right smartly, as it sometimes does even on that now placid stream. But with his memories of the magnificent Hudson, he was too prone to quiz me about what he called our pretty rivulet. You know him, do you not?"
"Oh, well. He was Beverly's college-mate and mine, though somewhat our senior."
"And your warm friend, I believe?"
"Yes, and well worthy our friendship. Somewhat high-tempered and quick-spoken, but with a heart—like your brother's, Miss Weems, as generous and frank as a summer day."
"I do not think him high-tempered beyond the requisites of manhood," she replied, with something like asperity in her tone. "I cannot endure your meek, mild mannered men, who seem to forget their sex, and almost make me long to change my own with them, that their sweet dispositions may be better placed."
He glanced at her with a somewhat surprised air, that brought a slight blush to her cheek; but he seemed unconscious of it, and said, almost mechanically:
"And yet, that same high spirit, which you prize so dearly, had, in his case, almost caused you a severe affliction."
"What do you mean?"
"Have you not heard how curiously Beverly's intimacy with Harold was brought about? And yet it was not likely that he should have told you, although I know no harm in letting you know."
She turned toward him with an air of attention, as if in expectation.
"It was simply this. Not being class-mates, they had been almost strangers to each other at college, until, by a mere accident, an argument respecting your Southern institutions led to an angry dispute, and harsh words passed between them. Being both of the ardent temperament you so much admire, a challenge ensued, and, in spite of my entreaty and remonstrance, a duel. Your brother was seriously wounded, and Harold, shocked beyond expression, knelt by his side as he lay bleeding on the sward, and bitterly accusing himself, begged his forgiveness, and, I need not add, received it frankly. Harold was unremitting in his attentions to your brother during the period of his illness, and from the day of that hostile meeting, the most devoted friendship has existed between them. But it was an idle quarrel, Miss Weems, and was near to have cost you an only brother."
She remained silent for a few moments, and was evidently affected by the recital. Then she spoke, softly as if communing with herself: "Harold is a brave and noble fellow, and I thank God that he did not kill my brother!" and a bright tear rolled upon her cheek. She dashed it away, almost angrily, and glancing steadily at Arthur:
"Do you condemn duelling?"
"But what would you have men do in the face of insult? Would you not have fought under the same provocation?"
"No, nor under any provocation. I hold too sacred the life that God has given. With God's help, I shall not shed human blood, except in the strict line of necessity and duty."
"It is evident, sir, that you hold your own life most sacred," she said, with a curl of her proud lip that was unmistakable.
She did not observe the pallor that overspread his features, nor the expression, not of anger, but of anguish, that settled upon his face, for she had turned half away from him, and was gazing vacantly across the river. There was an unpleasant pause, which was broken by the noise of voices in alarm near the house, the trampling of hoofs, and the rattle of wheels.
The carriage had been standing at the door, while Beverly was arranging some casual business, which delayed him in his rooms. While the attention of the groom in charge had been attracted by some freak of his companions, a little black urchin, not over five years of age, had clambered unnoticed into the vehicle, and seizing the long whip, began to flourish it about with all his baby strength. The horses, which were high bred and spirited, had become impatient, and feeling the lash, started suddenly, jerking themselves free from the careless grasp of the inattentive groom. The sudden shout of surprise and terror that arose from the group of idle negroes, startled the animals into a gallop, and they went coursing, not along the road, but upon the lawn, straight toward the river bank, which, in the line of their course, was precipitous and rocky. As Oriana and Arthur turned at the sound, they beheld the frightened steeds plunging across the lawn, and upon the carriage seat the little fellow who had caused the mischief was crouching bewildered and helpless, and screaming with affright. Oriana clasped her hands, and cried tearfully:
"Oh! poor little Pomp will be killed!"
In fact the danger was imminent, for the lawn at that spot merged into a rocky space, forming a little bluff which overhung the stream some fifteen, feet. Oriana's hand was laid instinctively upon Arthur's shoulder, and with the other she pointed, with a gesture of bewildered anxiety, at the approaching vehicle. Arthur paused only long enough to understand the situation, and then stepping calmly a few paces to the left, stood directly in the path of the rushing steeds.
"Oh, Mr. Wayne! no, no!" cried Oriana, in a tone half of fear and half supplication; but he stood there unmoved, with the same quiet, mournful expression that he habitually wore. The horses faltered somewhat when they became conscious of this fixed, calm figure directly in their course. They would have turned, but their impetus was too great, and they swerved only enough to bring the head of the off horse in a line with Arthur's body. As coolly as if he was taking up a favorite book, but with a rapid movement, he grasped the rein below the bit with both hands firmly, and swung upon it with his whole weight. The frightened animal turned half round, stumbled, and rolled upon his side, his mate falling upon his knees beside him; the carriage was overturned with a crash, and little Pompey pitched out upon the greensward, unhurt.
By this time, Beverly, followed by a crowd of excited negroes, had reached the spot.
"How is it, Arthur," said Beverly, placing his hand affectionately on his friend's shoulder, "are you hurt?"
"No," he replied, the melancholy look softening into a pleasant smile; but as he rose and adjusted his disordered dress, he coughed painfully—the same dry, hacking cough that had often made those who loved him turn to him with an anxious look. It was evident that his delicate frame was ill suited to such rough exercise.
"We shall be cheated out of our ride this morning," said Beverly, "for that axle has been less fortunate than you, Arthur; it is seriously hurt."
They moved slowly toward the house, Oriana looking silently at the grass as she walked mechanically at her brother's side. When Arthur descended into the drawing-room, after having changed his soiled apparel, he found her seated there alone, by the casement, with her brow upon her hand. He sat down at the table and glanced abstractedly over the leaves of a scrap-book. Thus they sat silently for a quarter hour, when she arose, and stood beside him.
"Will you forgive me, Mr. Wayne?"
He looked up and saw that she had been weeping. The haughty curl of the lip and proud look from the eye were all gone, and her expression was of humility and sorrow. She held out her hand to him with an air almost of entreaty. He raised it respectfully to his lips, and with the low, musical voice, sadder than ever before, he said:
"I am sorry that you should grieve about anything. There is nothing to forgive. Let us forget it."
"Oh, Mr. Wayne, how unkind I have been, and how cruelly I have wronged you!"
She pressed his hand between both her palms for a moment, and looked into his face, as if studying to read if some trace of resentment were not visible. But the blue eyes looked down kindly and mournfully upon her, and bursting into tears, she turned from him, and hurriedly left the room.
The incident related in the preceding chapter seemed to have effected a marked change in the demeanor of Oriana toward her brother's guest. She realized with painful force the wrong that her thoughtlessness, more than her malice, had inflicted on a noble character, and it required all of Arthur's winning sweetness of disposition to remove from her mind the impression that she stood, while in his presence, in the light of an unforgiven culprit. They were necessarily much in each other's company, in the course of the many rambles and excursions that were devised to relieve the monotony of the old manor house, and Oriana was surprised to feel herself insensibly attracted toward the shy and pensive man, whose character, so far as it was betrayed by outward sign, was the very reverse of her own impassioned temperament. She discovered that the unruffled surface covered an under-current of pure thought and exquisite feeling, and when, on the bosom of the river, or in the solitudes of the forest, his spirit threw off its reserve under the spell of nature's inspiration, she felt her own impetuous organization rebuked and held in awe by the simple and quiet grandeur that his eloquence revealed.
One afternoon, some two weeks after his arrival at the Riverside manor, while returning from a canter in the neighborhood, they paused upon an eminence that overlooked a portion of the city of Richmond. There, upon an open space, could be seen a great number of the citizens assembled, apparently listening to the harangue of an orator. The occasional cheer that arose from the multitude faintly reached their ears, and that mass of humanity, restless, turbulent and excited, seemed, even at that distance, to be swayed by some mighty passion.
"Look, Miss Weems," said Arthur, "at this magnificent circle of gorgeous scenery, that you are so justly proud of, that lies around you in the golden sunset like a dream of a fairy landscape. See how the slanting rays just tip the crest of that distant ridge, making it glow like a coronet of gold, and then, leaping into the river beneath; spangle its bosom with dazzling sheen, save where a part rests in the purple shadow of the mountain. Look to the right, and see how those crimson clouds seem bending from heaven to kiss the yellow corn-fields that stretch along the horizon. And at your feet, the city of Richmond extends along the valley."
"We admit the beauty of the scene and the accuracy of the description," said Beverly, "but, for my part, I should prefer the less romantic view of some of Aunt Nancy's batter-cakes, for this ride has famished me."
"Now look below," continued Arthur, "at that swarm of human beings clustering together like angry bees. As we stand here gazing at the glorious pageant which nature spreads out before us, one might suppose that only for some festival of rejoicing or thanksgiving would men assemble at such an hour and in such a scene. But what are the beauties of the landscape, bathed in the glories of the setting-sun, to them? They have met to listen to words of passion and bitterness, to doctrines of strife, to denunciations and criminations against their fellow-men. And, doubtless, a similar scene of freemen invoking the spirit of contention that we behold yonder in that pleasant valley of the Old Dominion, is being enacted at the North and at the South, at the East and at the West, all over the length and breadth of our country. The seeds of discord are being carefully and persistently gathered and disseminated, and on both sides, these erring mortals will claim to be acting in the name of patriotism. Beverly, do you surmise nothing ominous of evil in that gathering?"
"Ten to one, some stirring news from Charleston. We must ride over after supper, Arthur, and learn the upshot of it."
"And I will be a sybil for the nonce," said Oriana, with a kindling eye, "and prophecy that Southern cannon have opened upon Sumter."
In the evening, in despite of a threatening sky, Arthur and Beverly mounted their horses and galloped toward Richmond. As they approached the city, the rain fell heavily and they sought shelter at a wayside tavern. Observing the public room to be full, they passed into a private parlor and ordered some slight refreshment. In the adjoining tap-room they could hear the voices of excited men, discussing some topic of absorbing interest. Their anticipations were realized, for they quickly gathered from the tenor of the disjointed conversation that the bombardment of Fort Sumter had begun.
"I'll bet my pile," said a rough voice, "that the gridiron bunting won't float another day in South Carolina."
"I'll go you halves on that, hoss, and you and I won't grow greyer nor we be, before Old Virginny says 'me too.'"
"Seth Rawbon, you'd better be packing your traps for Massachusetts. She'll want you afore long."
"Boys," ejaculated the last-mentioned personage, with an oath, "I left off being a Massachusetts man twelve years ago. I'm with you, and you know it. Let's drink. Boys, here's to spunky little South Carolina; may she go in and win! Stranger, what'll you drink?"
"I will not drink," replied a clear, manly voice, which had been silent till then.
"And why will you not drink?" rejoined the other, mocking the dignified and determined tone in which the invitation was refused.
"It is sufficient that I will not."
"Mayhap you don't like my sentiment?"
"Look you, Mr. Harold Hare, I know you well, and I think we'll take you down from your high horse before you're many hours older in these parts. Boys, let's make him drink to South Carolina."
"Who is he, anyhow?"
"He's an abolitionist; just the kind that'll look a darned sight more natural in a coat of tar and feathers. Cut out his heart and you'll find John Brown's picture there as large as life."
At the mention of Harold's name, Arthur and Beverly had started up simultaneously, and throwing open the bar-room door, entered hastily. Harold had risen from his seat and stood confronting Rawbon with an air in which anger and contempt were strangely blended. The latter leaned with awkward carelessness against the counter, sipping a glass of spirits and water with a malicious smile.
"You are an insolent scoundrel," said Harold, "and I would horsewhip you, if you were worth the pains."
Rawbon looked around and for a second seemed to study the faces of those about him. Then lazily reaching over toward Harold, he took him by the arm and drew him toward the counter.
"Say, you just come and drink to South Carolina."
The heavy horsewhip in Harold's hand rose suddenly and descended like a flash. The knotted lash struck Rawbon full in the mouth, splitting the lips like a knife. In an instant several knives were drawn, and Rawbon, spluttering an oath through the spurting blood that choked his utterance, drew a revolver from its holster at his side.
The entrance of the two young men was timely. They immediately placed themselves in front of Harold, and Arthur, with his usual mild expression, looked full in Rawbon's eye, although the latter's pistol was in a line with his breast.
"Stand out of the way, you two," shouted Rawbon, savagely.
"What is the meaning of this, gentlemen?" said Beverly, quietly, to the excited bystanders, to several of whom he was personally known.
"Squire Weems," replied one among them, "you had better stand aside. Rawbon has a lien on that fellow's hide. He's an abolitionist, anyhow, and ain't worth your interference."
"He is my very intimate friend, and I will answer for him to any one here," said Beverly, warmly.
"I will answer for myself," said Hare, pressing forward.
"Then answer that!" yelled Rawbon, levelling and shooting with a rapid movement. But Wayne's quiet eye had been riveted upon him all the while, and he had thrown up the ruffian's arm as he pulled the trigger.
Beverly's eyes flashed like live coals, and he sprang at Rawbon's throat, but the crowd pressed between them, and for a while the utmost confusion prevailed, but no blows were struck. The landlord, a sullen, black-browed man, who had hitherto leaned silently on the counter, taking no part in the fray, now interposed.
"Come, I don't want no more loose shooting here!" and, by way of assisting his remark, he took down his double-barrelled shot-gun and jumped upon the counter. The fellow was well known for a desperate though not quarrelsome character, and his action had the effect of somewhat quieting the excited crowd.
"Boys," continued he, "it's only Yankee against Yankee, anyhow; if they're gwine to fight, let the stranger have fair play. Here stranger, if you're a friend of Squire Weems, you kin have a fair show in my house, I reckon, so take hold of this," and taking a revolver from his belt, he passed it to Beverly, who cocked it and slipped it into Harold's hand. Rawbon, who throughout the confusion had been watching for the opportunity of a shot at his antagonist, now found himself front to front with the object of his hate, for the bystanders had instinctively drawn back a space, and even Wayne and Weems, willing to trust to their friend's coolness and judgment, had stepped aside.
Harold sighted his man as coolly as if he had been aiming at a squirrel. Rawbon did not flinch, for he was not wanting in physical courage, but he evidently concluded that the chances were against him, and with a bitter smile, he walked slowly toward the door. Turning at the threshold, he scowled for a moment at Harold, as if hesitating whether to accept the encounter.
"I'll fix you yet," he finally muttered, and left the room. A few moments afterward, the three friends were mounted and riding briskly toward Riverside manor.
Oriana, after awaiting till a late hour the return of her brother and his friend, had retired to rest, and was sleeping soundly when the party entered the house, after their remarkable adventure. She was therefore unconscious, upon descending from her apartment in the morning, of the addition to her little household. Standing upon the veranda, she perceived what she supposed to be her brother's form moving among the shrubbery in the garden. She hastened to accost him, curious to ascertain the nature of the excitement in Richmond on the preceding afternoon. Great was her astonishment and unfeigned her pleasure, upon turning a little clump of bushes, to find herself face to face with Harold Hare.
He had been lost in meditation, but upon seeing her his brow lit up as a midnight sky brightens when a passing cloud has unshrouded the full moon. With a cry of joy she held out both her hands to him, which he pressed silently for a moment as he gazed tenderly upon the upturned, smiling face, and then, pushing back the black tresses, he touched her white forehead with his lips.
Arthur Wayne was looking out from his lattice above, and his eye chanced to turn that way at the moment of the meeting. He started as if struck with a sudden pang, and his cheek, always pale, became of an ashen hue. Long he gazed with labored breath upon the pair, as if unable to realize what he had seen; then, with a suppressed moan, he sank into a chair, and leaned his brow heavily upon his hand. Thus for half an hour he remained motionless; it was only after a second summons that he roused himself and descended to the morning meal.
At the breakfast table Oriana was in high spirits, and failed to observe that Arthur was more sad than usual. Her brother, however, was preoccupied and thoughtful, and even Harold, although happy in the society of one he loved, could not refrain from moments of abstraction. Of course the adventure of the preceding night was concealed from Oriana, but it yet furnished the young men with matter for reflection; and, coupled with the exciting intelligence from South Carolina, it suggested, to Harold especially, a vision of an unhappy future. It was natural that the thought should obtrude itself of how soon a barrier might be placed between friends and loved ones, and the most sacred ties sundered, perhaps forever.
Miss Randolph, Oriana's aunt, usually reserved and silent, seemed on this occasion the most inquisitive and talkative of the party. Her interest in the momentous turn that affairs had taken was naturally aroused, and she questioned the young men closely as to their view of the probable consequences.
"Surely," she remarked, "a nation of Christian people will choose some alternative other than the sword to adjust their differences."
"Why, aunt," replied Oriana, with spirit, "what better weapon than the sword for the oppressed?"
"I fear there is treason lurking in that little heart of yours," said Harold, with a pensive smile.
"I am a true Southerner, Mr. Hare; and if I were a man, I would take down my father's rifle and march into General Beauregard's camp. We have been too long anathematized as the vilest of God's creatures, because we will not turn over to the world's cold charity the helpless beings that were bequeathed into our charge by our fathers. I would protect my slave against Northern fanaticism as firmly as I would guard my children from the interference of a stranger, were I a mother."
"The government against which you would rebel," said Harold, "contemplates no interference with your slaves."
"Why, Mr. Hare," rejoined Oriana, warmly, "we of the South can see the spirit of abolitionism sitting in the executive chair, as plainly as we see the sunshine on an unclouded summer day. As well might we change places with our bondmen, as submit to this deliberate crusade against our institutions. Mr. Wayne, you are a man not prone to prejudice, I sincerely believe. Would you from your heart assert that this government is not hostile to Southern slavery?"
"I believe you are, on both sides, too sensitive upon the unhappy subject. You are breeding danger, and perhaps ruin, out of abstract ideas, and civil war will have laid the country waste before either party will have awakened to a knowledge that no actual cause of contention exists."
"Perhaps," said Beverly, "the mere fact that the two sections are hostile in sentiment, is the best reason why they should be hostile in deed, if a separation can only be accomplished by force of arms."
"And do you really fancy," said Harold, sharply, "that a separation is possible, in the face of the opposition of twenty millions of loyal citizens?"
"Yes," interrupted Oriana, "in the face of the opposing world. We established our right to self-government in 1776; and in 1861 we are prepared to prove our power to sustain that right."
"You are a young enthusiast," said Harold, smiling. "This rebellion will be crushed before the flowers in that garden shall be touched with the earliest frost."
"I think you have formed a false estimate of the movement," remarked Beverly, gravely; "or rather, you have not fully considered of the subject."
"Harold," said Arthur, sadly, "I regret, and perhaps censure, equally with yourself, the precipitancy of our Carolinian brothers; but this is not an age, nor a country, where six millions of freeborn people can be controlled by bayonets and cannon."
They were about rising from the table, when a servant announced that some gentlemen desired to speak with Mr. Weems in private. He passed into the drawing-room, and found himself in the presence of three men, two of whom he recognized as small farmers of the neighborhood, and the other as the landlord of a public house. With a brief salutation, he seated himself beside them, and after a few commonplace remarks, paused, as if to learn their business with him.
After a little somewhat awkward hesitation, the publican broke silence.
"Squire Weems, we've called about a rather unpleasant sort of business"
"The sooner we transact it, then, the better for all, I fancy, gentlemen."
"Just so. Old Judge Weems, your father, was a true Virginian, squire, and we know you are of the right sort, too." Beverly bowed in acknowledgment of the compliment. "Squire, the boys hereabouts met down thar at my house last night, to take into consideration them two Northern fellows that are putting up with you."
"We don't want any Yankee abolitionists in these parts."
"Mr. Lucas, I have no guests for whom I will not vouch."
"Can't help that, squire, them chaps is spotted, and the boys have voted they must leave. As they be your company, us three've been deputized to call on you and have a talk about it. We don't want to do nothing unpleasant whar you're consarned, squire."
"Gentlemen, my guests shall remain with me while they please to honor me with their company, and I will protect them from violence or indignity with my life."
"There's no mistake but you're good grit, squire, but 'tain't no use. You know what the boys mean to do, they'll do. Now, whar's the good of kicking up a shindy about it?"
"No good whatever, Mr. Lucas. You had better let this matter drop. You know me too well to suppose that I would harbor dangerous characters. It is my earnest desire to avoid everything that may bring about an unnecessary excitement, or disturb the peace of the community; and I shall therefore make no secret of this, interview to my friends. But whether they remain with me or go, shall be entirely at their option. I trust that my roof will be held sacred by my fellow-citizens."
"There'll be no harm done to you or yours, Squire Weems, whatever happens. But those strangers had better be out of these parts by to-morrow, sure. Good morning, squire."
"Good morning, gentlemen."
And the three worthies took their departure, not fully satisfied whether the object of their mission had been fulfilled.
Beverly, anxious to avoid a collision with the wild spirits of the neighborhood, which would be disagreeable, if not dangerous, to his guests, frankly related to Harold and Arthur the tenor of the conversation that had passed. Oriana was on fire with indignation, but her concern for Harold's safety had its weight with her, and she wisely refrained from opposing their departure; and both the young men, aware that a prolongation of their visit would cause the family at Riverside manor much inconvenience and anxiety, straightway announced their intention of proceeding northward on the following morning.
But it was no part of Seth Rawbon's purpose to allow his rival, Hare, to depart in peace. The chastisement which he had received at Harold's hands added a most deadly hate to the jealousy which his knowledge of Oriana's preference had caused. He had considerable influence with several of the dissolute and lawless characters of the vicinity, and a liberal allowance of Monongahela, together with sundry pecuniary favors, enabled him to depend upon their assistance in any adventure that did not promise particularly serious results. Now the capture and mock trial of a couple of Yankee strangers did not seem much out of the way to these not over-scrupulous worthies; and Rawbon's cunning representations as to the extent of their abolition proclivities were scarcely necessary, in view of the liberality of his bribes, to secure their cooperation in his scheme.
Rawbon had been prowling about the manor house during the day, in the hope of obtaining some clue to the intentions of the inmates, and observing a mulatto boy engaged in arranging the boat for present use, he walked carelessly along the bank to the old boat-house, and, by a few adroit questions, ascertained that "Missis and the two gen'lmen gwine to take a sail this arternoon."
The evening was drawing on apace when Oriana, accompanied by Arthur and Harold, set forth on the last of the many excursions they had enjoyed on James River; but they had purposely selected a late hour, that on their return they might realize the tranquil pleasures of a sail by moonlight. Beverly was busy finishing some correspondence for the North, which he intended giving into the charge of his friend Arthur, and he therefore remained at home. Phil, a smart mulatto, about ten years of age, who was a general favorite in the family and an especial pet of Oriana, was allowed to accompany the party.
It was a lovely evening, only cool enough to be comfortable for Oriana to be wrapped in her woollen shawl. As the shadows of twilight darkened on the silent river, a spirit of sadness was with the party, that vague and painful melancholy that weighs upon the heart when happy ties are about to be sundered, and loved ones are about to part. Arthur had brought his flute, and with an effort to throw off the feeling of gloom, he essayed a lively air; but it seemed like discord by association with their thoughts. He ceased abruptly, and, at Oriana's request, chose a more mournful theme. When the last notes of the plaintive melody had been lost in the stillness of the night, there was an oppressive pause, only broken by the rustle of the little sail and the faint rippling of the wave.
"I seem to be sailing into the shadows of misfortune," said Oriana, in a low, sad tone. "I wish the moon would rise, for this darkness presses upon my heart like the fingers of a sorrowful destiny. What a coward I am to-night!"
"A most obedient satellite," replied Arthur. "Look where she heralds her approach by spreading a misty glow on the brow of yonder hill."
"We have left the shadows of misfortune behind us," said Harold, as a flood of moonlight flashed over the river, seeming to dash a million of diamonds in the path of the gliding boat.
"Alas! the fickle orb!" murmured Oriana; "it rises but to mock us, and hides itself already in the bosom of that sable cloud. Is there not a threat of rain there, Mr. Hare?"
"It looks unpromising, at the best," said Harold; "I think it would be prudent to return."
Suddenly, little Phil, who had been lying at ease, with his head against the thwarts, arose on his elbow and cried out:
"What is what, Phil?" asked Oriana. "Why, Phil, you have been dreaming," she added, observing the lad's confusion at having spoken so vehemently.
"Miss Orany, dar's a boat out yonder. I heard 'em pulling, sure."
"Nonsense, Phil! you've been asleep."
"By Gol! I heard 'em, sure. What a boat doing round here dis time o' night? Dem's some niggers arter chickens, sure."
And little Phil, satisfied that he had fathomed the mystery, lay down again in a fit of silent indignation. The boat was put about, but the wind had died away, and the sail flapped idly against the mast. Harold, glad of the opportunity for a little exercise, shipped the sculls and bent to his work.
"Miss Oriana, put her head for the bank if you please. We shall have less current to pull against in-shore."
The boat glided along under the shadow of the bank, and no sound was heard but the regular thugging and splashing of the oars and the voices of insects on the shore. They approached a curve in the river where the bank was thickly wooded, and dense shrubbery projected over the stream.
"Wha' dat?" shouted Phil again, starting up in the bow and peering into the darkness. A boat shot out from the shadow of the foliage, and her course was checked directly in their path. The movement was so sudden that, before Harold could check his headway, the two boats fouled. A boathook was thrust into the thwarts; Arthur sprang to the bows to cast it off.
"Don't touch that," shouted a hoarse voice; and he felt the muzzle of a pistol thrust into his breast.
"None of that, Seth," cried another; and the speaker laid hold of his comrade's arm. "We must have no shooting, you know."
Arthur had thrown off the boathook, but some half-dozen armed men had already leaped into the frail vessel, crowding it to such an extent that a struggle, even had it not been madness against such odds, would have occasioned great personal danger to Oriana. Both Arthur and Harold seemed instinctively to comprehend this, and therefore offered no opposition. Their boat was taken in tow, and in a few moments the entire party, with one exception, were landed upon the adjacent bank. That exception was little Phil. In the confusion that ensued upon the collision of the two boats, the lad had quietly slipped overboard, and swam ground to the stern where his mistress sat. "Miss Orany, hist! Miss Orany!"
The bewildered girl turned and beheld the black face peering over the gunwale.
"Miss Orany, here I is. O Lor'! Miss Orany, what we gwine to do?"
She bowed her head toward him and whispered hurriedly, but calmly:
"Mind what I tell you, Phil. You watch where they take us to, and then run home and tell Master Beverly. Do you understand me, Phil?"
"Yes, I does, Miss Orany;" and the little fellow struck out silently for the shore, and crept among the bushes.
Oriana betrayed no sign, of fear as she stood with her two companions on the bank a few paces from their captors. The latter, in a low but earnest tone, were disputing with one who seemed to act as their leader.
"You didn't tell us nothing about the lady," said a brawny, rugged-looking fellow, angrily. "Now, look here, Seth Rawbon, this ain't a goin' to do. I'd cut your heart out, before I'd let any harm come to Squire Weems's sister."
"You lied to us, you long-headed Yankee turncoat," muttered another. "What in thunder do you mean bringing us down here for kidnapping a lady?"
"Ain't I worried about it as much as you?" answered Rawbon. "Can't you understand it's all a mistake?"
"Well, now, you go and apologize to Miss Weems and fix matters, d'ye hear?"
"But what can we do?"
"Do? Undo what you've done, and show her back into the boat."
"But the two abo"—
"Damn them and you along with 'em! Come, boys, don't let's keep the lady waiting thar."
The party approached their prisoners, and one among them, hat in hand, respectfully addressed Oriana.
"Miss Weems, we're plaguy sorry this should 'a happened. It's a mistake and none of our fault. Your boat's down thar and yer shan't be merlested."
"Am I free to go?" asked Oriana, calmly.
"Free as air, Miss Weems."
"With my companions?"
"No, they remain with us," said Rawbon.
"Then I remain with them," she replied, with dignity and firmness.
The man who had first remonstrated with Rawbon, stepped up to him and laid his hand heavily on his shoulder:
"Look here, Seth Rawbon, you've played out your hand in this game, now mind that. Miss Weems, you're free to go, anyhow, with them chaps or not, just as you like."
They stepped down the embankment, but the boats were nowhere to be seen. Rawbon, anticipating some trouble with his gang, had made a pretence only of securing the craft to a neighboring bush. The current had carried the boats out into the stream, and they had floated down the river and were lost to sight in the darkness.
There was no remedy but to cross the woodland and cornfields that for about a league intervened between their position and the highway. They commenced the tedious tramp, Arthur and Harold exerting themselves to the utmost to protect Oriana from the brambles, and to guide her footsteps along the uneven ground and among the decayed branches and other obstacles that beset their path. Their rude companions, too, with the exception of Rawbon, who walked moodily apart, seemed solicitous to assist her with their rough attentions. To add to the disagreeable nature of their situation, the rain began to fall in torrents before they had accomplished one half of the distance. They were then in the midst of a tract of wooded land that was almost impassable for a lady in the darkness, on account of the yielding nature of the soil, and the numerous ruts and hollows that were soon transformed into miniature pools and streams. Oriana strove to treat the adventure as a theme for laughter, and for awhile chatted gaily with her companions; but it was evident that she was fast becoming weary, and that her thin-shod feet were wounded by constant contact with the twigs and sharp stones that it was impossible to avoid in the darkness. Her dress was torn, and heavy with mud and moisture, and the two young men were pained to perceive that, in spite of her efforts and their watchful care, she stumbled frequently with exhaustion, and leaned heavily on their arms as she labored through the miry soil.
One of the party opportunely remembered a charcoal-burner's hut in the vicinity, that would at least afford a rude shelter from the driving storm. Several of the men hastened in search of it, and soon a halloo not far distant indicated that the cabin, such as it was, had been discovered. As they approached, they were surprised to observe rays of light streaming through the cracks and crevices, as if a fire were blazing within. It was an uninviting structure, hastily constructed of unhewn logs, and upon ordinary occasions Oriana would have hesitated to pass the threshold; but wet and weary as she was, she was glad to obtain the shelter of even so poor a hovel.
"There's a runaway in thar, I reckon," said one of the party. He threw open the door, and several of the men entered. A fire of logs was burning on the earthen floor, and beside it was stretched a negro's form, wrapped in a tattered blanket. He started up as his unwelcome visitors entered, and looked frightened and bewildered, as if suddenly awakened from a sound sleep. However, he had no sooner laid eyes upon Seth Rawbon than, with a yell of fear, he sprang with a powerful leap through the doorway, leaving his blanket in the hands of those who sought to grasp him.
"That's my nigger Jim!" cried Rawbon, discharging his revolver at the dusky form as it ran like a deer into the shadow of the woods. At every shot, the negro jumped and screamed, but, from his accelerated speed, was apparently untouched.
"After him, boys!" shouted Rawbon. "Five dollars apiece and a gallon of whisky if you bring the varmint in."
With a whoop, the whole party went off in chase and were soon lost to view in the darkness.
Harold and Arthur led Oriana into the hut, and, spreading their coats upon the damp floor, made a rude couch for her beside the fire. The poor girl was evidently prostrated with fatigue and excitement, yet, with a faint laugh and a jest as she glanced around upon the questionable accommodations, she thanked them for their kindness, and seated herself beside the blazing fagots.
"This is a strange finale to our pleasure excursion," she said, as the grateful warmth somewhat revived her spirits. "You must acknowledge me a prophetess, gentlemen," she added, with a smile, "for you see that we sailed indeed into the shadows of misfortune."
"Should your health not suffer from this exposure," replied Arthur, "our adventure will prove no misfortune, but only a theme for mirth hereafter, when we recall to mind our present piteous plight."
"Oh, I am strong, Mr. Wayne," she answered cheerfully, perceiving the expression of solicitude in the countenances of her companions, "and have passed the ordeal of many a thorough wetting with impunity. Never fear but I shall fare well enough. I am only sorry and ashamed that all our boasted Virginia hospitality can afford you no better quarters than this for your last night among us."
"Apart from the discomfort to yourself, this little episode will only make brighter by contrast my remembrance of the many happy hours we have passed together," said Arthur, with a tone of deep feeling that caused Oriana to turn and gaze thoughtfully into the flaming pile.
Harold said nothing, and stood leaning moodily against the wall of the hovel, evidently a prey to painful thoughts. His mind wandered into the glooms of the future, and dwelt upon the hour when he, perhaps, should tread with hostile arms the soil that was the birthplace of his beloved. "Can it be possible," he thought, "that between us twain, united as we are in soul, there can exist such variance of opinion as will make her kin and mine enemies, and perhaps the shedders of each other's blood!"
There was a pause, and Oriana, her raiment being partially dried, rested her head upon her arm and slumbered.
The storm increased in violence, and the rain, pelting against the cabin roof, with its weird music, formed a dismal accompaniment to the grotesque discomfort of their situation. Arthur threw fresh fuel upon the fire, and the crackling twigs sent up a fitful flame, that fell athwart the face of the sleeping girl, and revealed an expression of sorrow upon her features that caused him to turn away with a sigh.
"Arthur," asked Harold, abruptly, "do you think this unfortunate affair at Sumter will breed much trouble?"
"I fear it," said Arthur, sadly. "Our Northern hearts are made of sterner stuff than is consistent with the spirit of conciliation."
"And what of Southern hearts?"
"You have studied them," said Arthur, with a pensive smile, and bending his gaze upon the sleeping maiden.
Harold colored slightly, and glanced half reproachfully at his friend.
"I cannot help believing," continued the latter, "that we are blindly invoking a fatal strife, more in the spirit of exaltation than of calm and searching philosophy. I am confident that the elements of union still exist within the sections, but my instinct, no less than my judgment, tells me that they will no longer exist when the chariot-wheels of war shall have swept over the land. Whatever be the disparity of strength, wealth and numbers, and whatever may be the result of encounters upon the battle-field, such a terrible war as both sides are capable of waging can never build up or sustain a fabric whose cement must be brotherhood and kindly feeling. I would as soon think to woo the woman of my choice with angry words and blows, as to reconcile our divided fellow citizens by force of arms."
"You are more a philosopher than a patriot," said Harold, with some bitterness.
"Not so," answered Arthur, warmly. "I love my country—so well, indeed, that I cannot be aroused into hostility to any section of it. My reason does not admit the necessity for civil war, and it becomes therefore a sacred obligation with me to give my voice against the doctrine of coercion. My judgment may err, or my sensibilities may be 'too full of the milk of human kindness' to serve the stern exigencies of the crisis with a Spartan's callousness and a Roman's impenetrability; but for you to affirm that, because true to my own opinions, I must be false to my country, is to deny me that independence of thought to which my country, as a nation, owes its existence and its grandeur."
"You boast your patriotism, and yet you seem to excuse those who seek the dismemberment of your country."
"I do not excuse them, but I would not have them judged harshly, for I believe they have acted under provocation."
"What provocation can justify rebellion against a government so beneficent as ours?"
"I will not pretend to justify, because I think there is much to be forgiven on either side. But if anything can palliate the act, it is that system of determined hostility which for years has been levelled against an institution which they believe to be righteous and founded upon divine precept. But I think this is not the hour for justification or for crimination. I am convinced that the integrity of the Union can only be preserved by withholding the armed hand at this crisis. And pray Heaven, our government may forbear to strike!"
"Would you, then, have our flag trampled upon with impunity, and our government confessed a cipher, because, forsooth, you have a constitutional repugnance to the severities of warfare? Away with such sickly sentimentality! Such theories, if carried into practice, would reduce us to a nation of political dwarfs and puny drivellers, fit only to grovel at the footstools of tyrants."
"I could better bear an insult to our flag than a deathblow to our nationality. And I feel that our nationality would not survive a struggle between the sections. There is no danger that we should be dwarfed in intellect or spirit by practising forbearance toward our brothers."
"Is treason less criminal because it is the treason of brother against brother? If so, then must a traitor of necessity go unpunished, since the nature of the crime requires that the culprit be your countryman. How hollow are your arguments when applied to existing facts!"
"You forget that I counsel moderation as an expediency, as even a necessity, for the public good. It were poor policy to compass the country's ruin for the sake of bringing chastisement upon error."
"That can be but a questionable love of country that would humiliate a government to the act of parleying with rebellion."
"My love of country is not confined to one section of the country, or to one division of my countrymen. The lessons of the historic past have taught me otherwise. If, when a schoolboy, poring over the pages of my country's history, I have stood, in imagination, with Prescott at Bunker Hill, and stormed with Ethan Allen at the gates of Ticonderoga, I have also mourned with Washington at Valley Forge, and followed Marion and Sumter through the wilds of Carolina. If I have fancied myself at work with Yankee sailors at the guns, and poured the shivering broadside into the Guerriere, I have helped to man the breastworks at New Orleans, and seen the ranks that stood firm at Waterloo wavering before the blaze of Southern rifles. If I have read of the hardy Northern volunteers on the battle-plains of Mexico; I remember the Palmetto boys at Cherubusco, and the brave Mississippians at Buena Vista. Is it a wonder, then, that my heartstrings ache when I see the links breaking that bind me to such memories? If I would have the Government parley awhile for the sake of peace, even although the strict law sanction the bayonet and cannon, I do it in the name of the sacred past, when the ties of brotherhood were strong. I counsel not humiliation nor submission, but conciliation. I counsel it, not only as an expedient, but as a tribute to the affinities of almost a century. I love the Union too well to be willing that its fate should be risked upon the uncertainties of war. I believe in my conscience that the chances of its reconstruction depend rather upon negotiation than upon battles. I may err, or you, as my opponent in opinion, may err; for while I assume not infallibility for myself, I deny it, with justice, to my neighbor. But I think as my heart and intellect dictate, and my patriotism should not be questioned by one as liable to error as myself. Should I yield my honest convictions upon a question of such vital importance as my country's welfare, then indeed should I be a traitor to my country and myself. But to accuse me of questionable patriotism for my independence of thought, is, in itself, treason against God and man."
"I believe you sincere in your convictions, Arthur, not because touched by your argument, but because I have known you too long and well to believe you capable of an unworthy motive. But what, in the name of common justice, would you have us do, when rebellion already thunders at the gates of our citadels with belching cannon? Shall we sit by our firesides and nod to the music of their artillery?"
"I would have every American citizen, in this crisis, as in all others, divest himself of all prejudice and sectional feeling: I would have him listen to and ponder upon the opinions of his fellow citizens, and, with the exercise of his best judgment, to discard the bad, and take counsel from the good; then, I would have him conclude for himself, not whether his flag has been insulted, or whether there are injuries to avenge, or criminals to be punished, but what is best and surest to be done for the welfare of his country. If he believe the Union can only be preserved by war, let his voice be for war; if by peace, let him counsel peace, as I do, from my heart; if he remain in doubt, let him incline to peace, secure that in so doing he will best obey the teachings of Christianity, the laws of humanity, and the mighty voice that is speaking from the soul of enlightenment, pointing out the errors of the past, and disclosing the secret of human happiness for the future."
Arthur's eye kindled as he spoke, and the flush of excitement, to which he was habitually a stranger, colored his pale cheek. Oriana had awakened with the vehemence of his language, and gazing with interest upon his now animated features, had been listening to his closing words. Harold was about to answer, when suddenly the baying of a hound broke through the noise of the storm.
"That is a bloodhound!" exclaimed Harold with an accent of surprise.
"Oh, no," said Oriana. "There are no bloodhounds in this neighborhood, nor are they at all in use, I am sure, in Virginia."
"I am not mistaken," replied Harold. "I have been made familiar with their baying while surveying on the coast of Florida. Listen!"
The deep, full tones came swelling upon the night wind, and fell with a startling distinctness upon the ear.
"It's my hound, Mister Hare," said a low, coarse voice at the doorway, and Seth Rawbon entered the cabin and closed the door behind him.
"It's my hound. Miss Weems, and I guess he's on the track of that nigger, Jim."
Oriana started as if stung by a serpent, and rising to her feet, looked upon the man with such an expression of contempt and loathing that the ruffian's brow grew black with anger as he returned her gaze. Harold confronted him, and spoke in a low, earnest tone, and between his clenched teeth:
"If you are a man you will go at once. This persecution of a woman is beneath even your brutality. If you have an account with me, I will not balk you. But relieve her from the outrage of your presence here."
"I guess I'd better be around," replied Rawbon, coolly, as he leaned against the door, with his hands in his coat pocket. "That dog is dangerous when he's on the scent. You see, Miss Weems," he continued, speaking over Harold's shoulder, "my niggers are plaguy troublesome, and I keep the hound to cow them down a trifle. But he wouldn't hurt a lady, I think—unless I happened to encourage him a bit, do you see."
And the man showed his black teeth with a grin that caused Oriana to shudder and turn away.
Harold's brow was like a thunder-cloud, from beneath which his eyes flashed like the lightning at midnight.
"Your words imply a threat which I cannot understand. Ruffian! What do mean?"
"I mean no good to you, my buck!"
His lip, with the deep cut upon it, curled with hate, but he still leaned coolly against the door, though a quick ear might have caught a click, as if he had cocked a pistol in his pocket. It was a habit with Harold to go unarmed. Fearless and self-reliant by nature, even upon his surveying expeditions in wild and out of the way districts, he carried no weapon beyond sometimes a stout oaken staff. But now, his form dilated, and the muscles of his arm contracted, as if he were about to strike. Oriana understood the movement and the danger. She advanced quietly but quickly to his side, and took his hand within her own.
"He is not worth your anger, Harold. For my sake, Harold, do not provoke him further," she added softly, as she drew him from the spot.
At this moment the baying of the hound was heard, apparently in close proximity to the hovel, and presently there was a heavy breathing and snuffling at the threshold, followed by a bound against the door, and a howl of rage and impatience. Nothing prevented the entrance of the animal except the form of Rawbon, who still leaned quietly against the rude frame, which, hanging upon leathern hinges, closed the aperture.
There was something frightful in the hoarse snarling of the angry beast, as he dashed his heavy shoulder against the rickety framework, and Oriana shrank nervously to Harold's side.
"Secure that dog!" he said, as, while soothing the trembling girl, he looked over his shoulder reproachfully at Rawbon. His tone was low, and even gentle, but it was tremulous with passion. But the man gave no answer, and continued leering at them as before.
Arthur walked to him and spoke almost in an accent of entreaty.
"Sir, for the sake of your manhood, take away your dog and leave us."
He did not answer.
The hound, excited by the sound of voices, redoubled his efforts and his fury. Oriana was sinking into Harold's arms.
"This must end," he muttered. "Arthur, take her from me, she's fainting. I'll go out and brain the dog."
"Not yet, not yet," whispered Arthur. "For her sake be calm," and while he received Oriana upon one arm, with the other he sought to stay his friend.
But Harold seized a brand from the fire, and sprang toward the door.
"Stand from the door," he shouted, lifting the brand above Rawbon's head. "Leave that, I say!"
Rawbon's lank form straightened, and in an instant the revolver flashed in the glare of the fagots.
He did not shoot, but his face grew black with passion.
"By God! you strike me, and I'll set the dog at the woman."
At the sound of his master's voice, the hound set up a yell that seemed unearthly. Harold was familiar with the nature of the species, and even in the extremity of his anger, his anxiety for Oriana withheld his arm.
"Look you here!" continued Rawbon, losing his quiet, mocking tone, and fairly screaming with excitement, "do you see this?" He pointed to his mangled lip, from which, by the action of his jaws while talking, the plaster had just been torn, and the blood was streaming out afresh. "Do you see this? I've got that to settle with you. I'll hunt you, by G—d! as that hound hunts a nigger. Now see if I don't spoil that pretty face of yours, some day, so that she won't look so sweet on you for all your pretty talk."
He seemed to calm abruptly after this, put up his pistol, and resumed the wicked leer.
"What would you have?" at last asked Arthur, mildly and with no trace of anger in his voice.
Rawbon turned to him with a searching glance, and, after a pause, said:
"I want to make terms with you."
"About this whole affair."
"Well. Go on."
"I know you can hurt me for this with the law, and I know you mean to. Now I want this matter hushed up."
Harold would have spoken, but Arthur implored him with a glance, and answered:
"What assurance can you give us against your outrages in the future?"
"None! Then why should we compromise with you?"
"Because I've got the best hand to-night, and you know it. For her, you know, you'll do 'most anything—now, won't you?"
The fellow's complaisant smile caused Arthur to look away with disgust. He turned to Harold, and they were conferring about Rawbon's strange proposition, when Oriana raised her head suddenly and her face assumed an expression of attention, as if her ear had caught a distant sound. She had not forgotten little Phil, and knowing his sagacity and faithfulness, she depended much upon his having followed her instructions. And indeed, a moment after, the plashing of the hoofs of horses in the wet soil could be distinctly heard.
"Them's my overseer and his man, I guess," said Rawbon, with composure, and he smiled again as he observed how effectually he had checked the gleam of joy that had lightened Oriana's face.
"'Twas he, you see, that set the dog on Jim's track, and now he's following after, that's all."
He had scarcely concluded, when a vigorous and excited voice was heard, shouting: "There 'tis!—there's the hut, gentlemen! Push on!"
"It is my brother! my brother!" cried Oriana, clasping her hands with joy; and for the first time that night she burst into tears and sobbed on Harold's shoulder.
Rawbon's face grew livid with rage and disappointment. He flung open the door and sprang out into the open air; but Oriana could see him pause an instant at the threshold, and stooping, point into the cabin. The low hissing word of command that accompanied the action reached her ear. She knew what it meant and a faint shriek burst from her lips, more perhaps from horror at the demoniac cruelty of the man, than from fear. The next moment, a gigantic bloodhound, gaunt, mud-bespattered and with the froth of fury oozing from his distended jaws, plunged through the doorway and stood glaring in the centre of the cabin.
Oriana stood like a sculptured ideal of terror, white and immovable; Harold with his left arm encircled the rigid form, while his right hand was uplifted, weaponless, but clenched with the energy of despair, till the blood-drops burst from his palm. But Arthur stepped before them both and fixed his calm blue eyes upon the monster's burning orbs. There was neither fear, nor excitement, nor irresolution in that steadfast gaze—it was like the clear, straightforward glance of a father checking a wayward child—even the habitual sadness lingered in the deep azure, and the features only changed to be cast in more placid mold. It was the struggle of a brave and tranquil soul with the ferocious instincts of the brute. The hound, crouched for a deadly spring, was fascinated by this spectacle of the utter absence of emotion. His huge chest heaved like a billow with his labored respiration, but the regular breathing of the being that awed him was like that of a sleeping child. For full five minutes—but it seemed an age—this silent but terrible duel was being fought, and yet no succor came. Beverly and those who came with him must have changed their course to pursue the fleeing Rawbon.
"Lead her out softly, Harold," murmured Arthur, without changing a muscle or altering his gaze. But the agony of suspense had been too great—Oriana, with a convulsive shudder, swooned and hung like a corpse upon Harold's arm.
"Oh, God! she is dying, Arthur!" he could not help exclaiming, for it was indeed a counterpart of death that he held in his embrace.
Then only did Arthur falter for an instant, and the hound was at his throat. The powerful jaws closed with a snap upon his shoulder, and you might have heard the sharp fangs grate against the bone. The shock of the spring brought Arthur to the ground, and man and brute rolled over together, and struggled in the mud and gore. Harold bore the lifeless girl out into the air, and returning, closed the door. He seized a brand, and with both hands levelled a fierce blow at the dog's neck. The stick shivered like glass, but the creature only shook his grisly head, but never quit his hold. With his bare hand he seized the live coals from the thickest of the fire and pressed them against the flanks and stomach of the tenacious animal; the brute howled and quivered in every limb, but still the blood-stained fangs were firmly set into the lacerated flesh. With both hands clasped around the monster's throat, he exerted his strength till the finger-bones seemed to crack. He could feel the pulsations of the dog's heart grow fainter and slower, and could see in his rolling and upheaved eyeballs that the death-pang was upon him; but those iron jaws still were locked in the torn shoulder; and as Harold beheld the big drops start from his friend's ashy brow, and his eyes filming with the leaden hue of unconsciousness, the agonizing thought came to him that the dog and the man were dying together in that terrible embrace.
It was then that he fairly sobbed with the sensation of relief, as he heard the prancing of steeds close by the cabin-door; and Beverly, entering hastily, with a cry of horror, stood one moment aghast as he looked on the frightful scene. Then, with repeated shots from his revolver, he scattered the dog's brains over Arthur's blood-stained bosom.
Harold arose, and, faint and trembling with excitement and exhaustion, leaned against the wall. Beverly knelt by the side of the wounded man, and placed his hand above his heart. Harold turned to him with an anxious look.
"He has but fainted from loss of blood," said Beverly. "Harold, where is my sister?"
As he spoke, Oriana, who, in the fresh night air, had recovered from her swoon, pale and with dishevelled hair, appeared at the cabin-door. Harold and Beverly sought to lead her out before her eyes fell upon Arthur's bleeding form; but she had already seen the pale, calm face, clotted with blood, but with the beautiful sad smile still lingering upon the parted lips. She appeared to see neither Harold nor her brother, but only those tranquil features, above which the angel of Death seemed already to have brushed his dewy wing. She put aside Beverly's arm, which was extended to support her, and thrust him away as if he had been a stranger. She unloosed her hand from Harold's affectionate grasp, and with a long and suppressed moan of intense anguish, she kneeled down in the little pool of blood beside the extended form, with her hands tightly clasped, and wept bitterly.
They raised her tenderly, and assured her that Arthur was not dead.
"Oh, no! oh, no!" she murmured, as the tears streamed out afresh, "he must not die! He must not die for me! He is so good! so brave! A child's heart, with the courage of a lion. Oh, Harold! why did you not save him?"
But as she took Harold's hand almost reproachfully, she perceived that it was black and burnt, and he too was suffering; and she leaned her brow upon his bosom and sobbed with a new sorrow.
Beverly was almost vexed at the weakness his sister displayed. It was unusual to her, and he forgot her weariness and the trial she had passed. He had been binding some linen about Arthur's shoulder, and he looked up and spoke to her in a less gentle tone.
"Oriana, you are a child to-night. I have never seen you thus. Come, help me with this bandage."
She sighed heavily, but immediately ceased to weep, and said "Yes," calmly and with firmness. Bending beside her brother, without faltering or shrinking, she gave her white fingers to the painful task.
In the stormy midnight, by the fitful glare of the dying embers, those two silent men and that pale woman seemed to be keeping a vigil in an abode of death. And the pattering rain and moan of the night-wind sounded like a dirge.
Several gentlemen of the neighborhood, whom Beverly, upon hearing little Phil's story, had hastily summoned to his assistance, now entered the cabin, together with the male negroes of his household, who had mounted the farm horses and eagerly followed to the rescue of their young mistress. They had been detained without by an unsuccessful pursuit of Rawbon, whose flight they had discovered, but who had easily evaded them in the darkness. A rude litter was constructed for Arthur, but Oriana declared herself well able to proceed on horseback, and would not listen to any suggestion of delay on her account. She mounted Beverly's horse, while he and Harold supplied themselves from among the horses that the negroes had rode, and thus, slowly and silently, they threaded the lonely forest, while ever and anon a groan from the litter struck painfully upon their ears.
Arrived at the manor house, a physician who had been summoned, pronounced Arthur's hurt to be serious, but not dangerous. Upon receiving this intelligence, Oriana and Harold were persuaded to retire, and Beverly and his aunt remained as watchers at the bedside of the wounded man.
Oriana, despite her agitation, slept well, her rest being only disturbed by fitful dreams, in which Arthur's pale face seemed ever present, now smiling upon her mournfully, and now locked in the repose of death. She arose somewhat refreshed, though still feverish and anxious, and walking upon the veranda to breathe the morning air, she was joined by Harold, with his hand in a sling, and much relieved by the application of a poultice, which the skill of Miss Randolph had prepared. He informed her that Arthur was sleeping quietly, and that she might dismiss all fears as to his safety; and perhaps, if he had watched her closely, the earnest expression of something more than pleasure with which she received this assurance, might have given him cause for rumination. Beverly descended soon afterward, and confirmed the favorable report from the sick chamber, and Oriana retired into the house to assist in preparing the morning meal.
"Let us take a stroll by the riverside," said Beverly; "the air breathes freshly after my night's vigil."
"The storm has left none but traces of beauty behind," observed Harold, as they crossed the lawn. The loveliness of the early morning was indeed a pleasant sequel to the rude tempest of the preceding night. The dewdrops glistened upon grass-blade and foliage, and the bosom of the stream flashed merrily in the sunbeams.
"It is," answered Beverly, "as if Nature were rejoicing that the war of the elements is over, and a peace proclaimed. Would that the black cloud upon our political horizon had as happily passed away."
After a pause, he continued: "Harold, you need not fear to remain with us a while longer. I am sure that Rawbon's confederates are heartily ashamed of their participation in last night's outrage, and will on no account be seduced to a similar adventure. Rawbon himself will not be likely to show himself in this vicinity for some time to come, unless as the inmate of a jail, for I have ordered a warrant to be issued against him. The whole affair has resulted evidently from some unaccountable antipathy which the fellow entertains against us."
"I agree with you," replied Harold, "but still I think this is an unpropitious time for the prolongation of my visit. There are events, I fear, breeding for the immediate future, in which I must take a part. I shall only remain with you a few days, that I may be assured of Arthur's safety."
"I will not disguise from you my impression that Virginia will withdraw from the Union. In that case, we will be nominal enemies. God grant that our paths may not cross each other."
"Amen!" replied Harold, with much feeling. "But I do not understand why we should be enemies. You surely will not lend your voice to this rebellion?"
"When the question of secession is before the people of my State, I shall cast my vote as my judgment and conscience shall dictate. Meanwhile I shall examine the issue, and, I trust, dispassionately. But whatever may become of my individual opinion, where Virginia goes I go, whatever be the event."
"Would you uphold a wrong in the face of your own conscience?"
"Oh, as to that, I do not hold it a question between right and wrong, but simply of advisability. The right of secession I entertain no doubt about."
"No doubt as to the right of dismembering and destroying a government which has fostered your infancy, developed your strength, and made you one among the parts of a nation that has no peer in a world's history? Is it possible that intellect and honesty can harbor such a doctrine!"
"My dear Harold, you look at the subject as an enthusiast, and you allow your heart not to assist but to control your brain. Men, by association, become attached to forms and symbols, so as in time to believe that upon their existence depends the substance of which they are but the signs. Forty years ago, in the Hawaiian Islands, the death-penalty was inflicted upon a native of the inferior caste, should he chance to pass over the shadow of one of noble birth. So would you avenge an insult to a shadow, while you allow the substance to be stolen from your grasp. Our jewel, as freemen, is the right of self-government; the form of government is a mere convenience—a machine, which may be dismembered, destroyed, remodelled a thousand times, without detriment to the great principle of which it is the outward sign."
"You draw a picture of anarchy that would disgrace a confederation of petty savage tribes. What miserable apology for a government would that be whose integrity depends upon the caprice of the governed?"
"It is as likely that a government should become tyrannical, as that a people should become capricious. You have simply chosen an unfair word. For caprice substitute will, and you have my ideal of a true republic."
"And by that ideal, one State, by its individual act, might overturn the entire system adopted for the convenience and safety of the whole."
"Not so. It does not follow that the system should be overturned because circumscribed in limit, more than that a business firm should necessarily be ruined by the withdrawal of a partner. Observe, Harold, that the General Government was never a sovereignty, and came into existence only by the consent of each and every individual State. The States were the sovereignties, and their connection with the Union, being the mere creature of their will, can exist only by that will."
"Why, Beverly, you might as well argue that this pencil-case, which became mine by an act of volition on your part, because you gave it me, ceases to be mine when you reclaim it."
"If I had appointed you my amanuensis, and had transferred my pencil to you simply for the purposes of your labor in my behalf, when I choose to dismiss you, I should expect the return of my property. The States made no gifts to the Federal Government for the sake of giving, but only delegated certain powers for specific purposes. They never could have delegated the power of coercion, since no one State or number of States possessed that power as against their sister States."
"But surely, in entering into the bonds of union, they formed a contract with each other which should be inviolable."
"Then, at the worst, the seceding States are guilty of a breach of contract with the remaining States, but not with the General Government, with which they made no contract. They formed a union, it is true. But of what? Of sovereignties. How can those States be sovereignties which admit a power above them, possessing the right of coercion? To admit the right of coercion is to deny the existence of sovereignty."
"You can find nothing in the Constitution to intimate the right of secession."
"Because its framers considered the right sufficiently established by the very nature of the confederation. The fears upon the subject that were expressed by Patrick Henry, and other zealous supporters of State Rights, were quieted by the assurances of the opposite party, who ridiculed the idea that a convention, similar to that which in each State adopted the Constitution, could not thereafter, in representation of the popular will, withdraw such State from the confederacy. You have, in proof of this, but to refer to the annals of the occasion."
"I discard the theory as utterly inconsistent with any legislative power. We have either a government or we have not. If we have one, it must possess within itself the power to sustain itself. Our chief magistrate becomes otherwise a mere puppet, and our Congress a shallow mockery, and the shadow only of a legislative body. Our nationality becomes a word, and nothing more. Our place among the nations becomes vacant, and the great Republic, our pride and the world's wonder, crumbles into fragments, and with its downfall perishes the hope of the oppressed of every clime. I wonder, Beverly, that you can coldly argue against the very life of your country, and not feel the parricide's remorse! Have you no lingering affection for the glorious structure which our fathers built for and bequeathed to us, and which you now seek to hurl from its foundations? Have you no pride and love for the brave old flag that has been borne in the vanguard to victory so often, that has shrouded the lifeless form of Lawrence, that has gladdened the heart of the American wandering in foreign climes, and has spread its sacred folds over the head of Washington, here, on your own native soil?"
"Yes, Harold, yes! I love the Union, and I love and am proud of the brave old flag; I would die for either, and, although I reason with you coldly, my soul yearns to them both, and my heart aches when I think that soon, perhaps, they will no more belong to me. But I must sacrifice even my pride and love to a stern sense of duty. So Washington did, when he hurled his armed squadrons against the proud banner of St. George, under which he had been trained in soldiership, and had won the laurel of his early fame. He, too, no doubt, was not without a pang, to be sundered from his share of Old England's glorious memories, the land of his allegiance, the king whom he had served, the soil where the bones of his ancestors lay at rest. It would cause me many a throb of agony to draw my sword against the standard of the Republic—but I would do it, Harold, if my conscience bade me, although my nearest friends, although you, Harold—and I love you dearly—were in the foremost rank."
"Where I will strive to be, should my country call upon me. But Heaven forbid that we should meet thus, Beverly!"
"Heaven forbid?" he replied, with a sigh, as he pressed Harold's hand. "But yonder comes little Phil, running like mad, to tell us, doubtless, that breakfast is cold with waiting for us."
They retraced their steps, and found Miss Randolph and Oriana awaiting their presence at the breakfast-table.
During the four succeeding days, the house hold at Riverside manor were much alarmed for Arthur's safety, for a violent fever had ensued, and, to judge from the physician's evasive answers, the event was doubtful. The family were unremitting in their attentions, and Oriana, quietly, but with her characteristic self-will, insisted upon fulfilling her share of the duties of a nurse. And no hand more gently smoothed the sick man's pillow or administered more tenderly the cooling draught. It seemed that Arthur's sleep was calmer when her form was bending over him, and even when his thoughts were wandering and his eyes were restless with delirium, they turned to welcome her as she took her accustomed seat. Once, while she watched there alone in the twilight, the open book unheeded in her hand, and her subdued eyes bent thoughtfully upon his face as he slept unconscious of her presence, she saw the white lips move and heard the murmur of the low, musical voice. Her fair head was bent to catch the words—they were the words of delirium or of dreams, but they brought a blush to her cheek. And yet she bent her head still lower and listened, until her forehead rested on the pillow, and when she looked up again with a sigh, and fixed her eyes mechanically on the page before her, there was a trace of tears upon the drooping lashes.
He awoke from a refreshing slumber and it seemed that the fever was gone; for his glance was calm and clear, and the old smile was upon his lips. When he beheld Oriana, a slight flush passed over his cheek.
"Are you indeed there, Miss Weems," he said, "or do I still dream? I have been dreaming, I know not what, but I was very happy." He sighed, and closed his eyes, as if he longed to woo back the vision which had fled. She seemed to know what he had been dreaming, for while his cheek paled again, hers glowed like an autumn cloud at sunset.
"I trust you are much better, Mr. Wayne?"
"Oh yes, much better. I fear I have been very troublesome to you all. You have been very kind to me."
"Do not speak so, Mr. Wayne," she replied, and a tear glistened in her eyes. "If you knew how grateful we all are to you! You have suffered terribly for my sake, Mr. Wayne. You have a brave, pure heart, and I could hate myself with thinking that I once dared to wrong and to insult it."
"In my turn, I say do not speak so. I pray you, let there be no thoughts between us that make you unhappy. What you accuse yourself of, I have forgotten, or remember only as a passing cloud that lingered for a moment on a pure and lovely sky. There must be no self-reproaches between us twain, Miss Weems, for we must become strangers to each other in this world, and when we part I would not leave with you one bitter recollection."
There was sorrow in his tone, and the young girl paused awhile and gazed through the lattice earnestly into the gathering gloom of evening.
"We must not be strangers, Mr. Wayne."
"Alas! yes, for to be otherwise were fatal, at least to me."
She did not answer, and both remained silent and thoughtful, so long, indeed, that the night shadows obscured the room. Oriana arose and lit the lamp.
"I must go and prepare some supper for you," she said, in a lighter tone.
He took her hand as she stood at his bed-side and spoke in a low but earnest voice:
"You must forget what I have said to you, Miss Weems. I am weak and feverish, and my brain has been wandering among misty dreams. If I have spoken indiscreetly, you will forgive me, will you not?"
"It is I that am to be forgiven, for allowing my patient to talk when the doctor prescribes silence. I am going to get your supper, for I am sure you must be hungry; so, good bye," she added gaily, as she smoothed the pillow, and glided from the room. Oriana was silent and reserved for some days after this, and Harold seemed also to be disturbed and ill at ease. Some link appeared to be broken between them, for she did not look into his eyes with the same frank, trusting gaze that had so often returned his glance of tenderness, and sometimes even she looked furtively away with heightened color, when, with some gentle commonplace, his voice broke in upon her meditation. Arthur was now able to sit for some hours daily in his easy-chair, and Oriana often came to him at such times, and although they conversed but rarely, and upon indifferent themes, she was never weary of reading to him, at his request, some favorite book. And sometimes, as the author's sentiment found an echo in her heart, she would pause and gaze listlessly at the willow branches that waved before the casement, and both would remain silent and pensive, till some member of the family entered, and broke in upon their revery.
"Come, Oriana," said Harold, one afternoon, "let us walk to the top of yonder hillock, and look at this glorious sunset."
She went for her bonnet and shawl, and joined him. They had reached the summit of the hill before either of them broke silence, and then Oriana mechanically made some commonplace remark about the beauty of the western sky. He replied with a monosyllable, and sat down upon a moss-covered rock. She plucked a few wild-flowers, and toyed with them.
"Oriana, Arthur is much better now."
"Much better, Harold."
"I have no fears for his safety now. I think I shall go to-morrow."
"Yes, to New York. The President has appealed to the States for troops. I am no soldier, but I cannot remain idle while my fellow citizens are rallying to arms."
"Will you fight, Harold?"
"If needs be."
"Against your countrymen?"
"Against me, perhaps."
"Heaven forbid that the blood of any of your kin should be upon my hands. I know how much you have suffered, dearest, with the thought that this unhappy business may separate us for a time. Think you that the eye of affection could fail to notice your dejection and reflective mood for some days past?"
Her face grew crimson, and she tore nervously the petals of the flower in her hand.
"Oriana, you are my betrothed, and no earthly discords should sever our destinies or estrange our hearts. Why should we part at all. Be mine at once, Oriana, and go with me to the loyal North, for none may tell how soon a barrier may be set between your home and me."
"That would be treason to my kindred and the home of my birth."
"And to be severed from me—would it not be treason to your heart?"
She did not answer.
"I have spoken to Beverly about it, and he will not seek to control you. We are most unhappy, Oriana, in our national troubles; why should we be so in our domestic ties. We can be blest, even among the rude alarms of war. This strife will soon be over, and you shall see the old homestead once again. But while the dark cloud lowers, I call upon you, in the name of your pledged affection, to share my fortunes with me, and bless me with this dear hand."
That hand remained passively within his own, but her bosom swelled with emotion, and presently the large tears rolled upon her cheek. He would have pressed her to his bosom, but she gently turned from him, and sinking upon the sward, sobbed through her clasped fingers.
"Why are you thus unhappy, dear Oriana?" he murmured, as he bent tenderly above her. "Surely you do not love me less because of this poison of rebellion that infects the land. And with love, woman's best consolation, to be your comforter, why should you be unhappy?"
She arose, pale and excited, and raised his hand to her lips. The act seemed to him a strange one for an affianced bride, and he gazed upon her with a troubled air.
"Let us go home, Harold."
"But tell me that you love me."
She placed her two hands lightly about his neck, and looked up mournfully but steadily into his face.
"I will be your true wife, Harold, and pray heaven I may love you as you deserve to be loved. But I am not well to-day, Harold. Let us speak no more of this now, for there is something at my heart that must be quieted with penitence and prayer. Oh, do not question me, Harold," she added, as she leaned her cheek upon his breast; "we will talk with Beverly, and to-morrow I shall be stronger and less foolish. Come, Harold, let us go home."
She placed her arm within his, and they walked silently homeward. When they reached the house, Oriana was hastening to her chamber, but she lingered at the threshold, and returned to Harold.
"I am not well to-night, and shall not come down to tea. Good night, Harold. Smile upon me as you were wont to do," she added, as she pressed his hand and raised her swollen eyes, beneath whose white lids were crushed two teardrops that were striving to burst forth. "Give me the smile of the old time, and the old kiss, Harold," and she raised her forehead to receive it. "Do not look disturbed; I have but a headache, and shall be well to-morrow. Good night—dear—Harold."
She strove to look pleasantly as she left the room, but Harold was bewildered and anxious, and, till the summons came for supper, he paced the veranda with slow and meditative steps.
The following morning was warm and springlike, and Arthur was sufficiently strong and well to walk out a little in the open air. He had been seated upon the veranda conversing with Beverly and Harold, when the latter proposed a stroll with Beverly, with whom he wished to converse in relation to his proposed marriage. As the beams of the unclouded sun had already chased away the morning dew, and the air was warm and balmy, Arthur walked out into the garden and breathed the freshness of the atmosphere with the exhilaration of a convalescent freed for the first time from the sick-room. Accidentally, or by instinct, he turned his steps to the little grove which he knew was Oriana's favorite haunt; and there, indeed, she sat, upon the rustic bench, above which the drooping limbs of the willow formed a leafy canopy. The pensive girl, her white hand, on which she leaned, buried among the raven tresses, was gazing fixedly into the depths of the clear sky, as if she sought to penetrate that azure veil, and find some hope realized among the mysteries of the space beyond. The neglected volume had fallen from her lap, and lay among the bluebells at her feet. Arthur's feeble steps were unheard upon the sward, and he had taken his seat beside her, before, conscious of an intruder, she started from her dream.